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FEEDING DAIRY CALVES TO PROMOTE RUMEN DEVELOPMENT

Dr. Ronald L. Boman
USU Extension Dairy Nutritionist

    A recent article in the popular dairy press about rumen development in dairy calves caught my attention. We have known for many years that butyric and propionic acids (produced from the fermentation of cereal grains) promote the development of the rumen epithelium, and in particular the rumen papillae. The sooner we can get calves to consume a �calf starter,� the quicker the rumen epithelium will develop. A good calf starter will be highly palatable, contain 16% protein (No Non-Protein-Nitrogen), be based primarily on coarsely ground or flaked cereal grains, and be fortified with the necessary vitamins and minerals.

    Successful calf raisers encourage calves to eat calf starter during the first few days of life by putting starter in the calves� mouths after feeding milk or milk replacer. The calf starter is much more important than hay for rumen development. In fact, hay will actually retard rumen development. Hay doesn�t need to be fed until near the end of the milk feeding period.

    Fresh, clean water that is always available to the calf will enhance the consumption of dry calf starter, which must also be kept clean and fresh and always available. Early and adequate starter intake not only promotes early rumen development, but it also results in greater body weight gains.

    When calves have been consuming 2.5 to 3.0 lbs of calf starter daily for a week, they can be weaned even if they are only 5 to 6 weeks old. Once the calves are weaned they should get about 5 lbs of a calf grower ration (cheaper than the starter) and have free access to a medium to high quality hay. Of course, clean water that is kept from freezing is important here also.

    If you have questions about this article, contact your county agricultural agent or call Dr. Ron Boman (435) 797-2163.